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Wherein the Autographed Cat has been very very busy and neglecting this journal

Life for me can get very, very busy.

Monday was a good day. My birthday, hurrah, and all that. I went into work, because I’m taking most of the week of July 4th to go and visit my sister-by-choice (more on that later), her husband, and their daughter, in their new home in Knoxville, TN. They’re wonderful people, and we don’t visit them often enough, so I’m really looking forward to the trip.

Monday evening deidrecorwyn and I went out to dinner with telynor and her husband. deidrecorwyn wanted to go to a sushi place, and telynor knows where all the good sushi places are, so I said sure, as long as they serve actual food there as well. I don’t get along well with the idea of sushi. I don’t mind that other people eat it, but it’s just not really my idea of a good time. Fortunately, this place also had excellent teriyaki. I had teriyaki beef and shrimp fried rice, and deidrecorwyn had this massive sushi platter that could feed three people, from the look of it. Ah, sweet decadence. She took about half of it home with her for lunch the next day.

Tuesday I went and got my hair cut. Nothing drastic, just thinned a bit and trimmed so I look less like a wildman come down from the mountain. I’m trying to get the sides to grow out the same length as the back. We’ll see how that goes. Long ago, someone said “Oh, I know just what to do wit your hair”, and it’s never quite recovered. I suppose I really should just have it all chopped off and let it grow back, but I’ve never quite had the gumption to do so.

Wednesday was a long day. One of our core servers at work had a pair of software RAID-5 disk arrays from back when you actually made 20GB disks out of 12 2GB disks. I’d argued successfully that once these disks started to go bad, it’d be nearly impossible to replace or repair them, and that we really should be using hardware RAID devices anyway. So having acquired the hardware for this task, I’d been slowly moving files from the old devices to the new one. I was down at last to the directories that couldn’t easily be moved while the machine was up and running. I got to work at 3am, brought that machine down into single-user mode, and moved that last bit, which took about an hour, all told. Then, since I had to leave early that day for a doctors appointment, I just stayed at work. I slipped out at 7am for breakfast, and just worked until 4pm, after which I went to my doctor’s appointment and then came home and crashed.

Today was dull. After work I dropped by Borders and Barnes & Nobles in search of Tove Janssen books. I heard yesterday that she had passed away, and i realized that I had LOVED the Moomin books when I was a child, and that I no longer had any copies of them. I did manage to find one (Finn Family Moomintroll), as well as a Rocky and Bullwinkle book in the bargain books section. Borders is apparently having a blowout clearance sale, and I found a Stan Rogers CD I didn’t have (Between the Breaks Live) for 75% off. Sometimes the good guys win, eh? 🙂

And that’s the news. I’ll try and actually keep up from now on.

First Lines (with a twist)

So I really liked the first lines from books meme, so here are ten. Note that these are not necessarily my ten FAVOURITE books, since a) I couldn’t quantify what my ten favourite books are, and b) I don’t necessarily have them all at hand. Also, some of my favourite book shave boring first lines, and what fun is that.

To make this even more fun, I’m not going to tell you what they are! Well, ok, I will, but not right away, and you guys can have fun figuring them out. Some are well-known, some less well-known, but I recommend every book I put on here. Go read them.

  • It was starting to end, after what seemed like most of an eternity to me.
  • A great city is nothing more than a portrait of itself, and yet when all is said and done, its arsenals of scenes and images are part of a deeply moving plan.
  • “Are we all now present?” the Master enquired, squinting over the top of his gold-rimmed spectacles.
  • By day, the Nicollet Mall winds through Minneapolis like a paved canal.
  • She had been running for four days now, a harum-scarum tumbling flight through passages and tunnels.
  • Years ago, when you were a kid and I was a kid, something changed in America.
  • “You can always find somebody stranger than you are in Athens,” Jay Madison’s girlfriend had told him.
  • First came the routine request for a Breach of Privacy permit. A police officer took down the details and forwarded the request to a clerk, who saw that the tape reached the appropriate civic judge.
  • When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow.
  • The year Janet started at Blackstock College, the Office of Residential Life had spent the summer removing from all the dormitories the old wooden bookcases that, once filled with books, fell over unless wedged.
  • Answers to the Ten First Lines…

    For those who want to know what the books were…

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    One man’s trash…

    There’s something very Norman Rockwellian about yard sales. I’ve always enjoyed going to them and browsing through the accumulated flotsam and jetsam of a strangers life. Of course, I always feel a little guilty where there’s absolutely nothing the person has that I actually want. It’s like I feel I’ve wasted their time and hopes looking over everything and judged them wanting in some regard. “Nope, sorry, there’s nothing here I want. Why don’t you have nicer things? What? Oh, you got nicer things, and that’s why you’re getting rid of all this lot. Well, call me the next time you have a yard sale, then.”

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    Failing my will save…

    eloren is a temptress. No really.

    Yesterday, as we went to lunch, she casually says to me, “By the way, I think a used bookstore opened up in John’s Creek.” So after lunch, we swung by to see when it was open, and since it was, you know, open right then, we stopped in to have a look.

    Used bookstores and me are a volatile combination. Financially, at least.

    Read More

    Reading list

    So, I’m thinking that if I actually start talking about the books I’m reading, it’ll encourage me to spend more time reading them. I used to read a lot, but in recent years I’ve started spending too much time in front of the computer and not enough time with a book in my hand. Time to fix that.

    Currently, I’m in the middle of Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything, which is one of the most entertaining general overviews of science and the history of science that I’ve ever come across. I really enjoy a genre of non-fiction that I call “anecdotal history”, by which I mean “history told in a nonfiction but entertaining manner”. I also have Kenneth Davis’s “Don’t Know Much About History”, which I’d read before but only recently reacquired.

    Last week, I read Nerve.com’s Guide to Sexual Etiquette, which was a marvelously informative book with a droll style. It was slightly different in focus from The Bride Wore Black Leather (And He Looked Fabulous), which is a different sex etiquette book focusing more on altsex than more usual fare. And I’m reading Dan Savage’s Savage Love in pieces. As a collection of columns, its easy to read in small pieces. (What I sometimes refer to as a “bathroom book”).

    So, what are YOU reading right now?

    Reading

    Well, I didn’t get much reading done last week, for a variety of reasons. I’ve decided that I’m going to set aside one hour every weekday, from 6:30 to 7:30pm, as my designated reading time. I won’t be on the computer or watching TV or listening to music during that hour, for so much as I can help it.

    Continued working my way through Bill Bryson’s excellent Short History of Nearly Everything, reading several passages, and indeed one entire chapter, aloud to kitanzi. She’s joked by the time she gets to read the book, which is of interest to you, I’ll have already read most of it to her. 🙂 I’ve got a little less than 150 pages left in it. Also continued with Dan Savage’s Savage Love, which is currently in the bathroom and being read two and three pages at a time.

    Saturday, I was in need of comfort reads, and so idly picked up an old favourite, John Christopher’s The White Mountains. This is the first book in the series of novels that the BBC television programme The Tripods was based, though I first encountered it as a serialized comic in Boy’s Life magazine as a kid. I read the entire book in pretty much one sitting, and would probably have continued on to the second book in the series, except that I don’t actually have a copy. Must remember to go check out ABE Books after payday.

    As I mentioned elsewhere, telynor gave me a spiffy hardcover copy of Mark Helprin’s Winter’s Tale, which reminds me that it’s been about a year since the last time I read it and I should add it to the queue.

    When you’re feeling down, or distressed, or lonely, or out of sorts, what are your favourite comfort reads?

    Reading report

    It’s been a while since I reported. I didn’t manage to make the time for reading over the weekend that I had planned, and a earlier in the week various other projects ate into my reading time.

    • I finally finished A Short History of Nearly Everything, Bill Bryson’s wonderful layman’s overview of the current state of scientific knowledge. The structure of the book starts with an overview of what we know about the universe at large, then focuses on the history of the planet, and finally on the evolution of life on the planet, going from the widest possible perspective down to the very narrowest. Definitely worth a read if you’re at all interested in science or the history of science, and especially if you are not in fact a scientist yourself — Bryson’s prose style is conversational and very accessible.
    • Winterfair Gifts by Lois McMaster Bujold
      This is actually one of six stories in a collection called Irresistible Forces, which is some sort of SF/Romance crossover. I’m a huge fan of Bujold, so I had to get this as soon as possible — it was the first thing I picked up in the Boskone dealers room.

      This story is part of the Miles Vorkosigan universe and covers the period of his marriage to Ekaterin, but the story actually focuses on two minor characters, Armsman Roic, last seen slipping and sliding through gallons of bugbutter in his underwear in A Civil Campaign and Sergeant Taura, the genetically engineered soldier that Miles rescued from Jackson’s Whole in Labyrinth

      It was obvious early in the story where it was going, but it was an awful lot of fun watching it unfold. As kitanzi pointed out, it’s like really good fanfic, except in this case it’s actually written by the author herself.

      Recommended if you like Bujold’s Vorkosigan series. For those who like LMB’s writing but cannot stand Miles, I’ll note that he’s almost a minor character in this, the story of his own wedding.

    • Monstrous Regiment by Terry Pratchett
      I’m a huge fan of Terry Pratchett, and at one time had all of his books up to the point where I didn’t anymore. I’ve been recollecting them ever since. So you can imagine my delight when I got a box back in October containing the UK hardback edition of his newest novel, Monstrous Regiment, a joint anniversary gift for me and kitanzi from bardling, filkerdave, and djbp. I promptly set it aside to be read and didn’t get around to it for 5 months (In my defense, I didn’t read much else in those five months either.)

      My loss. Monstrous Regiment is another fine addition to the Discworld canon. Pratchett is one of the few authors I can think of who is 25+ books into a series and keeps getting better. One of the reasons for this, I think, is that he stopped writing broad parody and started writing fairly direct and biting satire. Pratchett is clearly unhappy with a lot of things going on in the world lately, and is using his books to express that.

      This book uses the age-old framework of “girl disguises herself as a boy in order to join the army” plot to send up both gender identification issues and the nature of modern war. The main character, Polly, is quite likeable, and is surrounded by the usual motley crew of irregulars.

      There’s maybe one too many twists at the end, but as a flaw, it’s a small one. While this isn’t probably the best ever Discworld book, it’s certainly one of the better ones.

    Weekly Reader

    So what’s been off my shelf this last week?

    • The City of Gold and Lead and The Pool of Fire by John Christopher

      When I finished The White Mountains a couple of weeks ago, I was somewhat frustrated because I was missing the second book in the trilogy. So I went to abebooks.com and ordered a copy. When it came, I immediately jumped back into the world of Will and Henry and Beanpole as they struggled against the domination of the Tripods.

      These are pretty brisk reads, and I must admit that there’s a lot of things that the older reader in me would love to have seen addressed in more detail, and some odd science here and there. But the story is just as good as when I was a kid, and the ending still leaves me with a touch of sadness. I hope that in the end, the people of Earth do manage to get their act together.

    • Sir Apropos of Nothing by Peter David

      Peter David is one of my favourite people writing in comics, and I had enjoyed some of his previous forays into prose fiction, so I was looking forward to this book. It turned out to be very satisfying, although I wasn’t sure at first if it was going to be. The first quarter of the books concerns itself with our protagonist’s ignoble birth and upbringing, and somewhere in those two hundred pages I began to wonder if David had set out to try and write an engaging fantasy novel without a single likable character in it. Once we catch back up with the present, however (the exposition is told via a lengthy flashback), the story gets seriously underway, and it’s very hard to put down. Despite the fact that Apropos whines too much, you do start to pull for him towards the end, and I commend David for resisting the urge to wrap it up with a cliche happy ending. If you like anti-heroes and atrocious puns, this may be a book you’ll enjoy.

    Who’s your favourite anti-hero?

    Weekly Reading

    Almost entirely fiction this week, although I have been dipping in and out of Harlan Ellison’s Watching, a collection of film essays. More on that when I actually finish it.

    • Newton’s Cannon by J. Gregory Keyes
      This is a book I’ve been trying to read for quite some time, but odd circumstances always seemed to keep me from it. I’m glad I finally got a chance to make it through. Keyes has imagined a rather bizzare alternate history, where Isaac Newton has discovered the secret of alchemy, Louis XIV has achieved immortality through a strange Persian elixir, and young Ben Franklin stumbles upon an international plot of intrigue that threatens to destroy England. There are odd historical and literary figures dropped here and there throughout the novel, and an ending that I absolutely did not expect. There are three more books in the series, and the first installment makes no pretense to standing alone, so I suppose I’ll have to wait until I read the next three to truly evaluate the story. It’s a page turner though, and I enjoyed Keyes’s imaginings a great deal.

    • Coraline by Neil Gaiman
      One of the problems with having fallen out of the habit of reading on a regular basis is that books I would have normally read the moment I bought them lay untouched for months. Such was the case with Neil Gaiman’s delightfully spooky young adult novel Coraline.

      Coraline is a bright, bored young girl with a broad imagination and loving if inattentive parents and an assortment of weird neighbors. But something mysterious is lurking on the other side of the big door in the living room that opens on a blank wall…or does it? She soon discovers a mirror world on the other side of the door, populated by beings claiming to be her Other Mother and Other Father, and it will take her ingenuity and perseverance to set her life back the way it was.

      This is just as wonderful quirky as Gaiman’s best work always did, and my enjoyment of the book was doubled by the fact that, with her peculiar combination of contrary whimsy and earnest practicality, I couldn’t help but picture our heroine as a young nrivkis. 🙂 Highly recommended. Read it to your kids.

    • Paladin of Souls by Lois McMaster Bujold
      Another book I had been neglecting, Paladin of Souls is the sequel to Bujold’s fantasy novel The Curse of Chalion. I love the setting and the characters of this world, and I grew to quickly like Ista, the reluctant recipient of the gods’ favours. Bujold’s talent for breathing life into her three dimensional characters is in great evidence here, the dialog is crisp and the plot is a page turner. Of course, the centerpiece of the book, as it was in the previous, is the odd, intricate cosmology of Chalion’s gods. Paladin of Souls is, ultimately, that rarest of all novels: a sequel that is at least the equal of it’s original. I am looking forward to Bujold’s continued efforts on this series.

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